“In religion, as in war and everything else, comfort is the one thing you cannot get by looking for it. If you look for truth, you may find comfort in the end: if you look for comfort you will not get either comfort or truth — only soft soap and wishful thinking to begin with and, in the end, despair. —Mere Christianity
This quote comes from C.S. Lewis’s book Mere Christianity, one of the most influential books in the modern Christian world. Lewis is a genuinely timeless writer whose thoughts and insights are, in many ways, more relevant today than when he put pen to paper. I think that this quote is a prime example of this.
People strive for comfort
Throughout history, humanity has invested lots of energy into making the world a more comfortable place to live. This endeavor has, for the most part, been successful. Although there is still room for improvement, the world has never seen a time when so many aspects of life can be experienced in as much comfort. Be that as it may, the harsh realities and pitfalls surrounding the ideal of comfort have remained unchanged.
The problem with comfort
Earlier In the book, Mere Christianity, Lewis points out that comfort cannot be obtained without some level of discomfort. For example, if I don’t travel to the store, I can’t satisfy my hunger. Or, if I don’t go to work, I can’t have money. Whenever we attempt to reach a comfortable place without stepping into the turbulent waters surrounding it, only wishful thinking can be obtained.
In the quote itself, Lewis builds upon this idea by suggesting that there is also an intrinsic relationship between truth and comfort. Although truth does not always lead to comfort, genuine comfort cannot be obtained without truth. I think that an excellent example of this principle can be found in another one of Lewis’s books (don’t worry, there won’t be any spoilers).
In his book The Last Battle, a group of characters find themselves in a situation where they decide to reject an uncomfortable reality to an absurd degree. In the story, these individuals were moved—suddenly—from a safe place to a terrifying one. Upon realizing this, the characters decide to pretend nothing happened.
In order to maintain their self-imposed delusion, they kept their eyes closed and told themselves that the smells surrounding them were the same smells from just a moment ago. Later, some good-hearted people provide a lavish and expensive feast in hopes that the food would snap them out of it. However, they counter these efforts by pretending the meal was disgusting. As the reader, you have insights into how counterproductive their wishful thinking is, which makes them frustrating but relatable.
Much like comfort, the truth almost always lies on the other side of turbulent waters. This is especially true when it comes to religious or spiritual truths. In my journey with Christ, there have been many times when God has revealed something to me that I found undesirable. I often didn’t want to enact the life reform he was prescribing or begin struggling with the theological question he presented.
However, looking back on many of those events, I can’t help but wonder how different my life would have been if I had immediately taken up the challenge. Suppose I had been seeking after truth over immediate comfort. Would I have had the patience to help the person I was short with? Would I have been able to answer my friend’s question? Would I have succeeded in those tasks I failed? These—amongst other unanswerable late-night questions—occasionally find their way into my inner monolog.
I think that this quote from Lewis is a good reminder that truth and comfort are not free things. Whether we like it or not, they often come at the price of effort, struggle, and even dismay. It is also a good reminder that many of the comforts we enjoy are, in truth, artificial and hollow. Finally, it reminds us that as believers, we need to be willing to follow God’s lead, even if it means stepping into uncomfortable waters. Matthew 14:28-31